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Foes put past behind them in China


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Taiwan opposition leader Lien Chan is in China on a visit aimed at easing tensions with Beijing
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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Taiwan's opposition leader and Chinese President Hu Jintao have vowed to work together at the first meeting between the rivals in half a century.

But Taiwan's government has slammed the controversial talks, saying they would do nothing to improve frosty relations.

The Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party have been bitter enemies since China's civil war, when Mao Zedong's communists defeated the Nationalists.

Lien Chan's visit is the first by a Nationalist leader since the party, which once ruled all of China, fled the mainland following its defeat by the communists in 1949.

But on Friday, Lien and Chinese President Hu Jintao focused on the future in a ceremony which was televised live in China and Taiwan from Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

"Our two parties were enemies in the past. Everyone knows this history. But history is in the past. We can't change it. But the future is in our hands and offers many opportunities," said Lien.

For Lien, the talks with Hu marked the climax of a weeklong trip to mainland China, with the emphasis on easing tensions between the two long-time rivals.

"I believe the exchange and dialogue between our two parties will improve Cross-straits relations and help the development of peace and stability," said Hu.

In their talks the two men agreed to push for an end to hostility and expand economic ties.

In this meeting and throughout his trip, Beijing has given Lien virtual head of state treatment.

Indeed, like former U.S. president Bill Clinton, Lien was invited to give a speech at Peking University where he drew a warm response after he called for the "building of a bridge" between the two.

But there is one big catch in all this. Lien, who favors unification, isn't the leader of Taiwan.

That job belongs to President Chen Shui-bian, a supporter of independence for Taiwan, who defeated Lien in two consecutive democratic elections.

But Beijing, which insists Taiwan is part of China, refuses to deal with Chen.

And many observers have interpreted China's embrace of Lien as an effort to isolate and embarrass Taiwan's leader and force him to abandon his pro-independence stance.

Taipei airport was turned into a battleground when Lien left as opponents and supporters of independence for the island scuffled with each other and police.

Critics have denounced Lien for kowtowing to Beijing as political tensions within Taiwan remain high over how to deal with China.

Opponents fear Lien's visit will undermine Taiwan's hopes for remaining separate from communist mainland China.

On Thursday Chen registered his criticism of Beijing back home in Taipei.

Taiwan's president criticized China's "one country, two systems" policy in a speech before members of the Taiwanese association of Macau and Hong Kong.

Still, after weeks of mounting tension following China's passage of a law authorizing military action to prevent Taiwan independence, Lien's visit may well change at least the atmospherics.

Especially as his trip to Beijing will be followed in a few days by that of another senior Taiwan opposition figure who is likely to receive similar treatment.


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